DIVINE RECEPTION “Music comes to me like a goddamn dream,” says Pigeon John. “These aren’t my ideas; it’s Jesus Christ — he writes all this shit.”
Pigeon John is a black sheep among black sheep. A thug-free, fringe-toeing MC who cut his chops on the post-gangsta West Coast freestyle circuit, he's chosen a fitting avian moniker: John is not exactly underground, but he's not super-duper fly, either. A rapper and singer, lover and hater, he makes the happiest sad music in all of hip-hop, and he's one of the most grounded artists in the game. His second album was titled Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister. Anyone with female siblings should be so lucky.
Having grown up in Hawthorne, on the outskirts of urban Los Angeles, John from the beginning honored an essential hip-hop guideline that few performers follow: be your damn self. At the legendary Good Life Café in South Central — where Abstract Rude, Busdriver, and the members of Jurassic 5 also engineered hella unique styles — he spit about high-school woes and suburban distractions rather than the guns and coke blunts popping outside the venue.
"I've been writing rap songs since I was a kid — just kind of looking at everything around me," he says. "The only exception was one time when I stopped rapping and started playing guitar for a year when I was 15 because someone told me that rapping was Satanic. And then I heard a sermon that said that was a fucking lie, so I started rapping again."
John is still super-religious, and not just in the thanking-God-on-Grammy-night sense. Without direct chapter-and-verse references, he makes just enough mention of his co-pilot that atheists and churchgoers can enjoy his music equally. In the past, his publicists have asked that I not mention his piety. And though that's understandable given the boom-bap marketplace, his religion is what enables John to be the rare wholesome rap artist who's self-depreciating but not corny.
"Music comes to me like a goddamn dream," he says. "These aren't my ideas; it's Jesus Christ — he writes all this shit. I might be smoking a cigarette in the backyard and a funny melody will come into my head and I'm like, 'Fuck — I have to go inside and write this down.' I'm more like a secretary, really."
Whether the result of prayer or the decade-plus hustle he's put in, John's career has been Heaven-bound for years. In 2006, he signed with the heralded Quannum Projects — home to Lyrics Born and DJ Shadow (he'll share the House of Blues stage with the latter this Sunday), and he subsequently hit hard overseas, especially in Australia, which he says is essentially a giant floating California and as such has love for his chill demeanor. More recently, his sincere new Dragon Slayer (Quannum Projects) — a joint effort with Parisian pop producer Herve Salters — has been detonating, as it were, on the strength of his dance-happy single "The Bomb." You might have heard it on a Volkswagen Jetta commercial: "I'm the bomb and about to blow up."